Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Jeanette Winter
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 4 to 8
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003   ISBN: 978-0374306557

It all started in 1893 when young Beatrix sent an  illustrated "story-letter" to her governess's son: "My dear Noel, I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits...Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter..." The popularity of this story became the stuff of legend, but what is perhaps not as well known, is how remarkable person the behind the magic was.

We meet Beatrix looking out at us with serious eyes, on the cover of the book, and as the pages turn, italicized words from Potter's own journals appear, revealing the private thoughts and feelings of a remarkably creative, though lonely girl. We can’t help but smile as her incredible imagination triumphs over the challenges of growing up. “The lonely days have begun…no one has time for me…I talk to the birds, who have the time.” Thus begins Beatrix’s lifelong love affair with the wild animals around her, including one particular companion whom little Beatrix tames, naming him, “Peter.” We smile as the familiar characters emerge one by one; Hunca Munca, a field mouse, “has her own little tiny box to sleep in.” Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, a country hedgehog, “was not a bit prickly with me, she used to lay her prickles back to be stroked.” We watch Beatrix tolerate her lessons and daily routines as her creativity grows, “I cannot rest, I must draw,” she declares.

When we hold this little biography book about Beatrix Potter, it instantly recalls her own little legendary storybooks about rabbits, mice, hedgehogs, and birds. Small, compact and written in the first person, we are able to bond with the girl Beatrix Potter, as we still do with the her rabbit character, Peter.

Throughout this book, black ink lines frame watercolor paintings, very much in the style that was chosen for Potter’s own books. Winter honestly portrays the lonely life of Potter, yet she shows how loneliness can inspire inner fire and creativity, and in Beatrix Potter's case, her loneliness helped her become one of the best loved children's authors of all time.